Staged Evolution of Hybrid AI
Our paradigm starts with Homo Sapien as the root of an evolutionary tree that then branches out in different directions, which one-day may eventually lead to full sentient AI. Of course, at the current state of knowledge, it is still only speculation as to whether science will ever replicate the attributes of consciousness required for life and self-awareness. However, with this assumption clearly identified, our evolutionary paradigm can be used as a framework for discussion of the current state of technology and the scope of complexity still to be addressed. The summary of each stage of evolution below should not be taken too literally, although there is a possibility that they may not be that far from the truth. The main point being forwarded is that it is highly improbable that sentient AI will just one day appear from the back of a computer research laboratory after a freak lighting strike; but rather be a staged process of evolution-by-design, e.g.
Of course, the 'scientific' names are completely fictitious, but hopefully help to convey the essence of the change-taking place. While many are predicting the road to sentient AI in as little as 50 years, this may be so grossly over optimistic that one can only assume the source of such predictions to be the 'AI marketing department'. However, the first few steps on our AI evolutionary tree could be taken in this timeframe. Certainly, within the life of this generation's children and grandchildren, the impact of intelligent systems could accelerate the process of change that will eventually alter society (and life) beyond our current recognition. Even if sentient AI were to take another millennium, which may be equally pessimistic, this would still be less than one millionth of 1% of time taken for Homo Sapien life to evolve on Earth.
Catalyst for Change: Writing; Printed Books; Industrial Revolution
Homo Sapiens were essentially fully evolved over some 100,000 years ago in terms of their brain capacity. The development of writing, some 5,000 years ago, was a catalyst that allowed increased information storage. Storage capacity was again significantly increased by the subsequent invention of the printing press (1436) and further improved by mechanisation bought about by the industrial revolution. In terms of Maslow's hierarchy, the basic survival needs of a significant portion of the population were being met by some developing nations by the start of 20th century. Therefore, conditions were right for the next evolutionary step, although it would not be Darwinian in nature.
Catalyst for Change: Computers; Networks and Internet
It is suggested that we have already taken the next evolutionary step. Although computers are not an integral part of our biological DNA, they are an integral part of our global society and critical to supporting a world population of some 6.7 billion people. Homo Computerus has an information storage capacity that is billions of times greater than Homo Sapien. However, more importantly, Homo Computerus has the enhanced capability to process and distribute the massive increase in information on a global scale. In practice, this species can be split into two broad sub-groups:
- Homo Computerus Illiterus
- Homo Computerus Literus
Although very few people live totally outside the influence of computers, the former sub-group still accounts for a large percentage of the population. The lives of this group are affected by computers and may even be dependent on them, but they are effectively computer illiterate. However, the growth rate of the latter sub-group is growing in comparison to the former. As of 2008, it is estimated that there are a billion computers in use worldwide, estimated to increase to 2 billion by 2015, from which literacy, and dependency, is expanding rapidly to every corner of the globe. This ignores the ever-growing number of today's generation that appear to be permanently attached to their I-phones!
Catalyst for Change: Human genome; DNA research
At the end of the 20th century, the first mapping of the human genome was completed, some 3 years ahead of schedule, thanks largely to improvements in computer processing. Over the next 50 years, increased knowledge of human DNA will also be accompanied by a similar improvement in our knowledge of the brain and its many functions. The application of this knowledge to improve our own genome and mental capacity will start to see the birth of a new species, referred to as Homo Optimus. Evolution will still be based on biological enhancements to the basic human genome, but the rate of change is man-made. In practice, the improvements in our brain capacity may be limited by its biological design. However, the quality and length of life may greatly improve overall creativity and the productivity of human lives. In parallel, society will be undergoing similar changes as increasingly intelligent computer systems take over many of today's established and respected professions.
So, over time, Homo Optimus comes to represent the peak of human evolution in its biological form. Of course, there will be resistance to any meddling with natural evolution. However, in the same way that we have come to accept plastic surgery to improve our physical appearance, we may gradually come to accept more fundamental improvements, especially if they help us to compete in a competitive world. Today, some people might be horrified by the changes implied by Homo Optimus. However, humanity may eventually be forced to look for new solutions, if its ambition to explore and understand the universe is to be satisfied.
Catalyst for Change: Direct Brain-Computer Interfacing
Although remarkable enhancements to the human genome may lead to increased brain capacity, the biological limits of the brain may not be able to compete with future computer technology. However, while computer processing will have evolved, by the end of the 21st century, to be basically self-learning within restricted problem spaces, it will not be sentient. Therefore, Homo Cyberneticus may represent the next, and more logical, step in evolution by the fusing of human sentience and creative imagination with the incredible processing and storage capacity of computers via a direct brain-computer interface.
For mobility reasons, the direct brain-computer interface may be wireless, but still capable of very high-speed to allow the biological brain fast access to an additional lobe, the computer. Although, high-speed telecommunications of the day will be much improved over our current perception of mobile telephony, transmission delays are still limited by the speed of light. For many mental processes, a delay of a few hundred milliseconds may be acceptable, although real-time vision enhancements would require very fast response times. Today, geo-stationary orbiting satellites can incur several hundred milliseconds of delay, although low-orbiting satellites are already envisaged that will reduce the delay to a few tens of milliseconds. Further advances that have micro-relay stations in the upper atmosphere, just a few miles above the Earth, could reduce delays even further.
At this point, there are still many characteristics of human intelligence, creativity and imagination residing in the biological brain, which cannot be replicated in silicon. However, an integrated computer interface allowing access to extended information recall, processing and storage could have profound benefits in terms of the productivity of human thought processes, especially if linked into collective groups. For example, a by-product of the brain-computer interface is that Homo Cyberneticus becomes effectively telepathic in the sense that it can directly communicate both thoughts and ideas with other members of its species. This fact represents a significant crossroad in evolution, because earlier evolutionary species now find it increasingly difficult to communicate effectively with Homo Cyberneticus, who is rapidly submerging into a world of enhanced reality.
The ability of Homo Cyberneticus to seamlessly enter cyberspace will start a process of even more fundamental change. In many interactions, Homo Cyberneticus will be able to assume an alter ego or avatar persona. Let us imagine what an interaction between two Homo Cyberneticus persona might be like. Jenny is a 20-year woman living in England and Kado is a 62-year-old man living in Japan. Jenny speaks no Japanese and Kado speaks no English. For many reasons, Jenny often selects a Japanese male persona when doing business in Japan and initiates a connection to Kado via her mental interface. Kado accepts the connection, selecting the persona of a 35-year-old Japanese man. The visual persona or avatars are perceived directly in the visual cortex. When Jenny speaks, her words are converted to text, time-stamped and stored in her local database for future reference, then translated to a common text language and forwarded to Kado with her avatar profile. As Kado receives the common text it is converted to Japanese text and stored in Kado's database for his future reference. At the same time, Jenny's words are translated into Japanese before being received by Kado's auditory system. Dialogue in the other direction undergoes a similar process. To Jenny and Kado, the process is effectively instantaneous and seamless. In a Homo Cyberneticus world, people have many identities to meet the requirements of cyberspace. This anecdote might initially seem a little unreal in our world, but aspects of this story such as avatar persona are already being played out in Internet chat-rooms and text translation is possible, as is text-speech conversion, albeit in a more restricted context.
Catalyst for Change: Robotics
While the scope of change up to this point is significant, external appearance may be essentially unchanged. Homo Hybridus is the start of a physical evolution to accompany the mental evolution within. It may therefore be surprising that the beginning of this evolutionary process has already started. Today, in medical research laboratories around the world, people are already working on biomechanical systems to address disabilities due to limb amputation and paralysis. However, significant integration of biomechanical replacements will only take place, as and when, direct brain-computer-interface allows the biomechanical anatomy to be fully controlled. With Homo Cyberneticus having already stepped over the man-machine threshold by enhancing the human brain with direct and extended computer capacity, Homo Hybridus embraces extensive prosthetic enhancements to the body.
In practice, many future predictions tend to gloss over the real social implications of the brave new world that technology is just about to create. Two hundred years ago, the industrial revolution was going to free mankind from manual slavery. In fairness, machines did remove much of the burden of manual labour from humanity, but at a price that was not understood in the beginning. Fifty years ago, computers were going to remove the drudgery of repetitive tasks and give us more leisure-time. Again, in part, some of the marketing claims were true, but you had to read the small-print disclaimer that came along with this deal. Today, it may be almost impossible for us to imagine a global society comprising of what could amount to four sub-species of vastly different appearances and capabilities. At the same time, this world may have doubled in population and many of today's manual and professional jobs are being carried out by intelligent expert systems. Clearly, there would appear to be the potential for a major breakdown of society, as we know it. To be honest, it not clear, how this conflict will or can be avoided, only that there will be winners and losers.
Catalyst for Change: Cyborg, AR
It was suggested that the initial impetus for Homo Hybridus was biomechanical replacement of damaged or defective human anatomy. However, one of the earlier technical predictions suggested that 98% of the human body could be replaceable by 2030. While some of these timeframe claims can be challenged, what is clear is that there is considerable potential to change the human anatomy. While today, the term 'cyborg' may conjure up negative images from science fiction, the eventual reality may be, at least visually, quite different. Again, over time, increasingly exotic enhancements may become accepted. However, the side effect of this process is that many human characteristics could start to be lost. Ultimately, the biological body could become redundant and the sentient mind preserved as a central intelligence controlling hundreds of potential drone-like extensions. Today, it may be difficult for many not to recoil from such a vision of the future, however this may be because our views about the world are based on our perceptions of reality linked to a physical world. However, in the future, it may be possible not only to re-structure our entire anatomy, but also to live our lives in both physical and artificial realities.
Let us attempt to put this world into some context, where Homo Machinus has developed the technology for deep space exploration, allowing the physical solar system and neighbouring star systems to be explored and mined for mineral resources. While much of this operation is carried out by intelligent systems, some aspects still need Homo Machinus to be collocated within a mothership in space. In order to survive the rigours of a life in space, while also minimising the cost and resources to maintain their on-board life-support, Homo Machinus has adapted itself by replacing much its original biological anatomy. In this form, Homo Machinus has an extended life expectancy of some 300 years based on its core biological brain cells and can survive extended periods of high 'G' acceleration. However, while Homo Machinus lives and works in this sparse physical reality, it also lives and enjoys much of its leisure time in a far richer artificial reality. Over time, the brain-computer interface has also evolved to provide direct stimulus of all primary sensory systems. As such, what Homo Machinus sees, hears, tastes, smells and touches in an artificial reality (AR) could be as real, in all practical terms, as what we perceive in our current physical reality. However, in AR, there is no requirement for physical resources and therefore leisure pursuits are limited only by their imagination and the computer systems to generate the AR simulations.
Catalyst for Change: AI, AR
So, over time, the DNA blueprint of Homo Sapien is continuously subjected to upgrade. Even the apparent complexities of the trillions of neuron connections in the human brain are emulated. And so, AI in the form of Homo Primus finally emerges, not through some freak lighting strike, but through the total upgrade of the original Homo Sapien blueprint. While, from our current perspective, we may consider Homo Primus as technology similar to a computer, this technology could be as far removed from today's computers, as Homo Primus will be from Homo Sapien. Further into the future, sentience and intelligence of multiple minds could merge together due to the near telepathic communication between them. Having finally broken completely free of Darwinian evolution, the rate of intellectual development could be phenomenal, as could life expectancy.
To some extent, the most difficult transitions in this evolutionary
paradigm may be in its earlier stages. The major transition being from
Homo Optimus to Homo Cyberneticus because not only
is it the point where humanity starts to shed its biological persona,
but computers in the form of intelligent systems are obsolescing many
key professions. After this threshold is crossed, the new sub-species
start to live their lives on multiple levels of reality, i.e. physical
plus multiple artificial realities. It is probable that Homo Hybridus
and Homo Machinus will be just intermediary stages in which
the final complexity of our biological blueprint is re-engineered to
complete Homo Primus.